Exploring the Best of Bruges (and its Buildings)

By Amandine Dowle

Bruges is a beautiful medieval town, located two and a half hours by train from Paris and 50 minutes from Brussels. Often called the Venice of the North for its canals, Bruges reveals its beauty at any time of the year. It is quite small so you don’t have to rush to see hundreds of attractions, as can be the case in other touristic cities.

With its 10,000 buildings, Bruges itself is one of the finest architectural complexes in Europe. It is from here that the art of the Flemish radiated throughout Europe, making the center of Bruges the center of many artistic movements.

Here are some ideas of what to see in Bruges, all of which can be done easily in a weekend:

1. First thing: Get lost! Wander rather than use a map
Lose yourself in the maze of cobbled streets! Bruges is not large; you can always find your way to the main square (le Markt). Without a travel guide, you can really enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the city and discover places off the beaten track.

Canal_Bruges

Canal in Bruges Photo: Amandine Dowle

2. Historic places and monuments in Bruges to not miss
Little paved streets and huge squares characterize the historic center. The Markt is one of the largest squares in Bruges. It was for more than 1000 years the symbol of the alliance between the civil and religious authorities. You will find the double chapel dedicated to St. Basil, called Chapel of the Holy Blood, composed of a lower Romanesque church and an upper church. This square was also home to several public institutions including the Court of Justice. The halls, the Belfry and Watterhalle are on the Grand Place.

The Belfry is one of the most impressive monuments of the Flemish city, with its 83 meters. Go to the top and find its secret room including an impressive clock mechanism and a carillon of 47 bells. The bravest that have reached the top will be rewarded with an incredible panoramic view of the city and its surroundings.

St. Saviour’s Cathedral is the oldest parish church in Bruges, dating from the twelfth-fifteenth centuries. You can admire the tombs in the chancel of the church. The museum features paintings of old Flemish masters as Dirk Bouts and Hugo van der Goes.

Markt Square

Markt Square Photo: Amandine Dowle

3. Eat a waffle covered with chocolate
You cannot visit Belgium without eating a Belgian waffle. Try “wafel met slagroom” meaning a Flemish waffle with whipped cream. Do as a local and buy the waffle from a street vendor; they are better quality (and value) than in restaurants. Then, the hard part: choosing a topping from among chocolate, jam, whipped cream, sweet, fruity, salty …

4. Rozenhoedkaai dock (Quai du Rosaire)
This is the image that comes to mind when thinking about Bruges. During the morning, afternoon or night, go to the dock to take a picture. The spot is really nice. You will understand why Bruges is called Venice.

From this dock, you can admire Bruges in all its glory. You will find the pretty home of the Tanners (Huidenvettershuis), built in 1630, which is a fine example of civil architecture. The tower house stands a little further. Beyond that, you will see the high roof of the chapel of the Holy Blood and one the left, the majestic standing Belfry.

Quai du rosaire_bruges

Quai du Rosaire Bruges Photo: Amandine Dowle

5. Take a tour by boat
No need to use your car in Bruges. It is best to walk, ride a bike and also use the many boats on the canals. You will see many places and monuments that you would be able to see only by boat. For less than € 8, you can have a 30 minutes tour with a guide who explains the history and culture of the city, while sitting to admire the banks. It’s really a must-do.

6. Follow the footsteps of film
Have you seen the movie In Bruges with Colin Farrell? A leaflet explaining the different scenes is available at the tourist office.You will find the main square and the belfry, but also the Burg Square, the Lake of Love (Minnewater), the Queen Astrid Park (Koningin Astridpark) or the square where the statue of Jan van Eyck, a famous Flemish painter, is located. It’s another fun way to discover the city.

7. Rent a bike
As noted, the city center is mostly pedestrian and there is no subway in Bruges. People travel by bike, and there are many places where you can rent one. If time allows, explore the surroundings of Bruges by bike. Find a tourist info point and ask for a cycling map.

8. Visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood
The basilica, located on the Grand-Place, has a beautiful interior. The price of the entrance is just two euros. The relic of the Holy Blood retains the blood of Christ and during the day of the Ascension, it is the subject of a parade around Bruges that thousands of spectators attend. You only need about ten minutes in the basilica but it is worth it.

9. Find a truly local brewery
Brewery De Halve Maan is home to the only brewery family still brewing beer in the center of Bruges. You can discover the history of the brewery and how  Belgian beer is crafted by taking a tour. At the end of the visit, you can taste some of their beers in the courtyard.

10. Enjoy the artistry of Michelangelo in the Church of Our Lady
The Notre Dame is known for its brick tower of 120 m, the highest in Europe. Its existence is mentioned for the first time in 1089 and it is especially worth a visit for its medieval pieces, such as the armors of the Golden Fleece Knights and the famous Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. The marble statue, which dates to 1504, is the jewel of this Gothic church. It is the only work by Michelangelo that left Italy during his lifetime. In the center you will also find are the tombs of Mary of Burgundy and her father, Charles the Bold.

This relaxing and calm city is perfect for a romantic weekend! Ifyou have a bit longer than a weekend,  have a look at the Belgian beaches as Ostend or Knokke-Heis.

Amandine Dowle is a French fashion and lifestyle photographer.  She has lived in New York, Ottawa, Greece and now resides in Milan.  In addition to photography, Amandine also writes articles about her traveling experiences for publishers.

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Making a Splash: Six Cool Pool Sites

August is half gone, which means summer is coming to an end.  But it’s not too late to indulge in summer fantasies!  Fantasies of gorgeous, historic swimming pools, that is.

A brief history of the swimming pool: the earliest pool is believed to be the 39×23 ft sealant-lined brick pool at Mohenjo-Daro (Pakistan), which dates from the third millennium BC.  Later civilizations, the Greeks and Romans in particular, continued the tradition and introduced heated swimming pools.  Public pools became popular again in the 19th century in the U.S. and abroad.  From there they became partly politicalwho (what social classes, races, and genders) could swim where, and when?

Without diving any deeper into the social history of pools (though there is much to be explored), let’s continue on to take a look at some stunning pools that will absolutely make you want to jump right in.

We’ll start off with a pool complex in one of my favorite cities, Berlin, Germany.  The Stadtbad Neukölln (Municipal Pool of Neukölln) was designed by architect Reinhold Kiehl, modeled after ancient spas.  It opened in 1914, and is still in use today.

The large pool. Photo: VisitBerlin.de

Moving halfway around the world, the pools at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, are similarly inspired by the antique.  There are two pools at the castle, the outdoor Neptune Pool and the indoor Roman Pool, both dating from the 1930s and designed by architect Julia Morgan.

The Neptune Pool. Photo: HearstCastle.org

The Roman Pool. Photo: Aaron M Photography

Just up the road (ish) in San Francisco, California, are the ruins of the Sutro Baths.  At the time of its opening in 1896, Sutro Baths was the largest indoor public bath complex with six seawater pools and one freshwater pool.  It was demolished in the 1960s.  You can see happy swimmers go down a water slide in this short video clip taken by Thomas Edison at the baths in 1897.

A poster for the Sutro Baths. Image: Wikipedia

Or perhaps you’d rather visit a bath on the site of a former Roman bath, rather than one just inspired by the Romans?  Then head over to the Roman Baths in aptly named Bath, England.  The site has been used for bathing almost continuously since the Romans first erected a bathing complex.  Now it houses a modern spa and pool, an 18th-century pump room, 19th-century baths, and a museum.  You can do a “walkthrough” of the complex on the Roman Baths’ website.

The Great Bath. Photo: RomanBaths.co.uk

If you’re craving something simpler but still historically significant, there’re always Cleveland Pools, also in Bath.  Built in 1815, these Georgian pools were in use until the 1970s and recently received a grant of £5.4 million for restoration work.  The outdoor pools were the largest in England at the time they were built, and are still some of the oldest in the country.

The crescent at Cleveland Pools. Photo: Cleveland Pools

Before we go, let’s head over to Turkey for something slightly different.  Not for Turkish baths, though.  We’re going for more mineral springs and Greco-Roman pools in Pamukkale (formerly Hieropolis), southwestern Turkey.  What’s probably most unique about the site are the terraced travertine hot springsshould you happen to be visiting when it’s chilly, you can still splash your feet or go swimming in one of the large pools!  Bonus: the remains of Roman columns and other architectural features lie on the bottoms of some of the pools.

The terraces at Pamukkale. Photos: Hallie Borstel

I’m completely ready now to go enjoy some swimming in one of these pools.  How about you?

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A Day with UOregon at Klesarska Skola

Every summer, the University of Oregon leads  an architecture, historic preservation, and conservation field school in Croatia.  The program travels to different sites each year, exploring both the mainland and the Dalmatian islands.  Activities in 2014 included a week learning about stone carving, documentation of villages, and restoration work on stone beehives.  Days were quite busy but filled with interesting opportunities and unique experiences!  The program is open to UO and non-UO students, and to people transitioning or considering changing fields (like me).  This year’s field school began on June 20th.  Join me for Day 6 of the field school, Day 4 at the Klesarska Škola (stone-carving school) in Pučišća on the island of Brač.

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The Klesarska Škola

7:00 – Wake up and get ready for the day.  (Alternative: wake up at 6:30 for a quick pre-breakfast swim in the harbor.)

7:30 – Breakfast buffet in the school cafeteria with a group of Austrian sculptors who are on a working vacation in Pučišća.

8:00 – 9:00 – Visit the workshop of a local stonemason to see modern, electric stonemasrony machines in action and hear a little about their use.

9:00 – 12:00 – Return to the school to pound away on limestone blocks using traditional techniques and tools–no electricity-powered machines here!  Graduate from flattening the surface of a large stone to doing a simple decorative relief, which is altogether more fun and easier on the arms and hands.

12:00 – Head out the doors of the school and launch yourself into the turquoise Adriatic for another refreshing dip before lunch.

12:30 – Lunch in the school cafeteria.

1:00 – 4:00 – Free time allotted for individual sketching, swimming, doing course readings, and napping.  Take a walk to the local cemetery to attempt some sketches.

4:00 – 7:30 – Visit local farmer and long-time Pučišća resident Ivo to tour his farm, which includes a grove of olive trees, remains of stone beehives, and a small house built from dry stone walls that was used until the mid-20th century (now home to an old jacket and a bat).  See lots of giant spiders.  Repair a dry-stone fence.  Teach Croatian translator/cultural ambassador/program assistant the joys of riding in the bed of a pickup truck.

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The olive grove at Ivo’s farm.

7:30 – Dinner back the the Klesarska Škola cafeteria.

8:30 onwards – Free time for watching the World Cup games, playing cards, going for a nighttime swim, and complaining about the large boats full of tourists that are blasting their music.

Pučišća, Night

The view from the dorms, when there are no boats blocking the view.

All photos by Hallie Borstel.

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Steamboating: Thinking Outside the Historic Preservation Box

Ah, summer.  Many summers in my childhood I eagerly anticipated the end of June because it meant I could spend a week with historic preservationists, if you think outside the box when defining “historic preservationist.”  I’ll admit, at the time I didn’t think of these people as historic preservationists, but now that I look back on it, that’s sort of what they were.  What I mean to say is: I often skipped out on the last week of school and went off to hang out at a steamboat meet instead.

A crowded steamboat on Lake Opinicon, Ontario, Canada, June 1998. Photo: Innes Borstel

steamboat lineup 2006

Steamboats on the Erie Canal, Fairport, NY, June 2006. Photo: Hallie Borstel

Yes, a steamboat meet.  As in that antiquated form of transportation that was once so revolutionary and was also quickly overshadowed by other technologies.  Several times a year, steamboat enthusiasts get together to show off their boats, discuss steam, and have fun.  Steamboaters are definitely some of the most entertaining and helpful people that I’ve met.  How did I get involved in this?  My grandparents own a steamboat, a fiberglass Elliott Bay hull from the 1980s.

While my grandpa’s boat is a new build, there are plenty of boaters who’ve restored old boats.  Some have fitted more modern boats or tugs to run on steam instead (reduce reuse recycle!).  At each meet there are endless conversations that I can’t quite follow about what type of engine someone has and what year it’s from and what boat it was in before.  The men (let’s be honest, it is mostly older men who have steamboats as toys) are walking dictionaries on all aspects of steaming and are concerned with preserving the boats, a pastime, and a technology.  Some work with boats full-time or volunteer at maritime museums, others are purely hobbyists.  But they’re all incredibly knowledgeable.

Boats near Waterford, NY, July 2011. Photo: Hallie Borstel

Lake Winnipesaukee

Boat on Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, September 2013. Photo: Hallie Borstel

If you learned about steamboats in school, you probably learned about the Mississippi River paddleboats or the ocean-going steam ships.  The boats at these meets are usually in the 20-30 foot range and can carry up to 8 or 10 passengers at a time (depending on the boat) but can be managed by just one or two.  Most burn wood, a few burn coal.  Going faster than 7 or 8 knots/hour (8 or 9 mph) is a chore.  The engines are noisy.  Sometimes there are water gun fights or impromptu sing-a-longs.

I would say it’s good, clean, educational fun, but you actually get rather dirty running a steamboat.

Craving more about steamboats?  Check out this list of meets in the U.S. in 2014 (spectators always welcome!).

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Six Summer Solstice Sites You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

With the northern hemisphere’s summer solstice upon us, it’s time for us to take another look at the day from the cultural heritage perspective and at sites dedicated to the summer solstice.  And no, we won’t be talking about Stonehenge, which is probably the most famous prehistoric site with a relationship to the summer solstice.  Instead, we’re going to cover six sites that you’ve probably never heard of.  Why six?  Because I liked the alliteration (and June is the sixth month in the Gregorian calendar).

1. Arkaim – Russia - Discovered in 1987, Arkaim lies in the Russian steppe near the border with Kazakhstan.  Though many settlements were found nearby in the years following Arkaim’s discovery, the circular fortified Bronze Age settlement is particularly significant.  Not only does it show a clear, premeditated city plan, but some believe it is the equivalent of England’s Stonehenge because of similar latitudes and axes.  It’s said that Arkaim’s infrastructure tracks sunrises, sunsets, solstices, and equinoxes.  The inner wall of the settlement could probably be used with the natural horizon to track 18 different astrological events.

Aerial view of Arkaim. Photo: Arkaim Center & Museum.

2. Externsteine – Germany - Like Arkaim, the jury is still out on what exactly the Externsteine are, beyond an extensive set of carvings done on free-standing sandstone pillars in the Teutoburg Forest in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany.  The carving were likely done as part of Teutonic religious rituals.  One very intriguing section of rock appears to be a chapel or chamber with an altar dating from sometime between the 9th and 11th centuries.  In the wall behind the altar is a circle-shaped cut-out, that aligns with the sunrise on the summer solstice.

Chamber or chapel with circular opening. Photo: Robin Jähne via externsteine-teutoburgerwald.org.

3. Ajanta Caves – India - The Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra, India, are a collection of 30 caves carved as a monument at the site of a Buddhist monastery.  The carvings were done over a period of six to eight hundred years, the earliest dating to the 2nd century BC and the latest to ca. 400 or 650 AD.  Of all thirty of the caves, particularly interesting is Cave 26, which is a chaitya or shrine/prayer hall.  In it sits a sculpture of the Buddha on top of a stupa (a mound containing relics).  Constructed probably about 465 AD, the cave is unique in that it aligns with the summer solsticeat dawn, the sun aligns with the axis of the cave and illuminates the Buddha.  Cave 19, believed to be built at the same time, aligns with the winter solstice.

Cave 26 of the Ajanta Caves. Photo: Ajanta Caves Facebook

4. The Pyramids – Giza, Egypt - Ok, so you’ve probably heard of the pyramids at the Giza Necropolis in Egypt, colloquially called the “Great Pyramids.”  The pyramids are the final resting place of the physical bodies of some of Ancient Egypt’s pharaohs.  The complex in its entirety includes three large pyramids,several smaller queen’s pyramids, and the Great Sphinx, and was erected throughout the 2500s BC.  The three large pyramids are dedicated to pharaohs Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure. Though it may only be a coincidence (it would be a pretty spectacular one), the sun sets perfectly between the two pyramids of Khufu and Khafre on the summer solstice if standing at the Great Sphinx.  Furthermore, this creates an image quite similar to the Ancient Egyptian ideogram for the word “horizon.”

Sunset on the summer solstice. Photo: Juan Antonio Belmonte via archaeomtery.com

5. Chaco Canyon – United States - Chaco Canyon lies in New Mexico, originally home to Ancient Pueblo Peoples and now operated as a historic site by the National Park Service.  It was a major center of the Pueblo during the about 10th to 12th centuries AD, when massive construction was undertaken, including housing, sites to perform religious rituals, and other significant sites.  For example, a section of rock at Fajada Butte in the canyon is called the “Sun Dagger.”  Unfortunately, due to damage in recent years, the Sun Dagger no longer accurately tracks movement of the sun, but it originally tracked the movements of the sun as the sunlight fell through a slit onto a raised spiral petroglyph.  At the summer solstice, the sunlight hit the direct center of the petroglyph.

The Sun Dagger in Chaco Canyon. Photo: colorado.edu

6. Serpent Mound – Ohio - You can probably see a theme here: most of the sites can’t be dated exactly or have many possibilities as to their true purpose.  The Serpent Mound in southern Ohio is another one of these.  It was probably built by a Mississippian culture sometime in the past 2200 years.  As the name suggests, the Serpent Mound is a snake-shaped earthwork extending over 1,000 feet in length.  It is possibly an effigy mound or some sort of calendarthe serpent’s head aligns with the sunset on the summer solstice.

The Serpent Mound. Photo: Kip May via Arc of Appalachia

These and other monuments are lasting, tangible examples of the importance the summer solstice held historically, though most of us don’t lay much stock in it today.  Nonetheless, it’s a popular time for celebration, whether as part of a long-persisting ritual or something new without a historical basis.  Where would you like to watch the sun this summer solstice?  (I’m fascinated by the Externsteine chapel!)

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On Hostelling, Historic Buildings, and Budget Travel

We think a lot about where we lay our heads at night.  There are so many options, starting with the pillowmemory foam? down? small or large? Then there’s the mattress.  Sleep number? spring? foam?  Door open or shut?  We all have our own preferences, but when we travel all that  usually gets thrown out the door, especially if you’re traveling on a budget in hostels. Hostels haven’t quite caught on in the United States as they have in other parts of the world, where they are very popular places to stay. They offer accommodations at cheaper prices than hotels, but you often relinquish all sorts of amenities to stay in one.

Sometimes, though, you stumble across a great hostelor at least one in a great building.  I’m sure most people have heard of historic hotels, and there are national and international organizations to help you find a historic hotel to stay in while on vacation.  Being able to stay in an old castle, manor house, or simply a quaint historic home certainly adds to your travel experiences. If you’re traveling on a budget, like me, you’ve got plenty of historic options, too! If you look around, there are plenty of hostels hiding in unique locations.

I’ve never actually gone out of my way to stay in a historic hostel, but finding one is always a nice bonus and may be the deciding factor if I’m choosing between two similarly priced and similarly located hostels. Most recently, I stayed at a renovated 19th Century inn. Hostel Mostel in Sofia, Bulgaria, looks just like you would expect an old-fashioned Central European inn to look. Exposed timbers, dark wood, and sturdy furnitureno Ikea products in sight!  The building is protected as a historic structure.  While the interiors have been modernized, you can still quite easily pretend you’ve stepped back in time when you enter the courtyard that leads to the hostel entrance if you can mentally erase the cars.

Hostel Mostel in Sofia. Photo: Hostelworld.com

In Venice, too, I got to stay in a historic building.  The hostel I stayed in, A Venice Fish in Venice’s Cannaregio District, takes up the first floor of a 16th century palace. It looks a bit run down on the outside, but this is not uncommon in Venice for buildings that aren’t museums. You reach the heavy dark green front door of the hostel via its own bridge, and enter a cool, dark, empty space before going up a short flight of stairs to the hostel.  The rooms all have very high ceilings, large windows that don’t quite close all the way, and tall wooden shutters. There’s a small balcony from which you can watch foot traffic and the private gondolas that frequently pass by. The facilities at the hostel are extremely basic, but the fact that you can say “Why yes, I stayed in an old palace in Venice” makes up for that.  While the furniture has changed, the integrity of the building has been well preserved.

A Venice Fish. Photo: Hallie Borstel

And there are plenty of places where I’ve had my curiosity piqued, historic or not, like the Red Boat Hostel in Stockholm, Sweden. The two boats that belong to the hostel/hotel sit on Lake Mälaren, near both the old town of Stockholm and the trendy Södermalm district. The rooms are cozy and there’s no disguising the fact that you’re sleeping on a boat. Or the hostel in Split, Croatia, whose name I can no longer remember, that was located inside the walls of Diocletian’s 4th century palace. Even if the hostel itself wasn’t 1700 years old, the maze of streets you had to walk to get to it reassured you that you certainly weren’t in Kansas anymore.

The Red Boat in Stockholm. Photo: TheRedBoat.com

And there are plenty more unique historic hostels.  You can stay in historic jails in Christchurch, New Zealand; Ottawa, Canada; Ljubljana, Slovenia; and other places.  Or in a castle, a monastery, rail cars,  or a lighthouse and signal station!  What’s the most interesting place you’ve stayed?

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More than Just a Museum in Münchingen…

Zeina Elcheikh celebrates a small town museum.

Arriving in Münchingen, it’s easy to delight in the traditional architecture of the old houses and barns as you wander about. Behind the remarkable Rathaus (Town Hall), stands a quiet old building, a building well worth a visit inside.

Münchingen's stunning architectural ensemble: the Town Hall (left), the Heimatmusuem (right) and the tower of the church appears in the background

Münchingen’s stunning architectural ensemble: the Town Hall (left), the Heimatmusuem (right) and the tower of the church appears in the background

Münchingen is located in the administrative district of Ludwigsburg, about 8 Km northwest of the center of Stuttgart, Germany. In 1975, Korntal and Münchingen were both combined in one town: Korntal-Münchingen. The old school of Münchingen, located between the Church and the Town Hall, is no longer home to noisy schoolchildren or classes. Yet the old building tells plenty of other stories.

The main façade and façade of the Heimatmusuem

The main facade and facade of the Heimatmusuem

Built probably in 1643, the school was damaged extensively in a fire that had also devastated the church and many other houses in Münchingen during the Thirty Years War. As a result, In 1645 the building was reconstructed and, for centuries, served as a school. Until the 1960s, the family of the school teacher lived upstairs, while the two rooms in the ground floor were devoted to teaching, where several classes were gathered.

In the early 1980s, there was a dispute over whether the building should be demolished or kept. The majority of the council voted for the safeguarding of the building and therefore the preservation of the architectural ensemble that represents the urban image of Münchingen: the church, the school and town hall. The school was turned into a museum, The Heimatmuseum, which opened to the public in 1986. The museum features temporary exhibitions two to three times a year to keep it vibrant and animated.

During restoration, wo holes were made on purpose in the ceiling of the upper floor, in order to show the layers building materials and traditional architecture

During restoration, conservators made two holes in the ceiling of the upper floor in order to show the layers building materials and traditional architecture

The museum shows the changes in daily life and work over time, in a place that had previously been a village in the old kingdom of Württemberg. The museum’s significance comes from its dedication to the cultural history of the place. The museum showcases memories of the “Old Days in Münchingen” through the everyday objects and old photographs of the town: from old traditional clothes and shoes, to complete scenes of fully furnished and equipped kitchens and bedrooms.

Some of the  household items on exhibit

Some of the household items on exhibit

A shoemaker

A shoemaker

It exhibits traditional crafts and trades, which had in the past a strong relation to the social fabric of the town, in addition to their role in supplementing agriculture. However, most of these crafts do not exist anymore, outside the walls of the museum and its collection.

The opening of the museum has been accompanied by the establishment of the Heritage Association (Heimatverein e.V.), which has assisted in preservation and museum services. The Heritage Association along with the archive of the town, have closely collaborated to the temporary exhibitions of the museum.

In 1964, Korntal-Münchingen (at that time only Korntal), came into partnership and twinning with the French town of Mirande, and Tubize in Belgium. In 2014, the Heimatmuseum celebrates a half century of partnership, which is the focus of the current exhibition.

If you go:
Heimatmusuem Museum Info
Entry is free and donations are always welcome!

Zeina Elcheikh, Syrian architect, holds an M.Sc. from Stuttgart University. She worked with German International Cooperation and the French Institute for the Near East in Syria. In Egypt, she joined the UNESCO office as an intern with the Wadi Halfa Museum project. She is also a member of AiP‘s Advisory Board.

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